The Need for Sustainable Formats—Open Source and Standardization

My name is Kelly Eubank. I am the manager of the Digital Services Section. In my position, I think a lot about how to preserve digital records and how to provide access them over time. Recently, I heard a story on NPR about Musical Instrument Digital Interface, a technology developed in 1978 that allows musical instruments to communicate digitally with computers and other instruments. ( Essentially, the tool “reads” a note played on an instrument and then converts that note to 1s & 0s so that it can be read by other machines or manipulated to create effects.

Normally, I would listen to this story and think how fascinating it is but not apply it to my work or personal life. However, the reason MIDI is in such wide spread usage is that the original intent of the creators of MIDI. Rather than license the technology or charge for it, the creators gave it away because they wanted to make sure it was universally adopted. Much like MIDI, when creating electronic records, saving them and managing them, you should know that you will have to plan to manage them. One way to make this more sustainable is to choose formats that are universally adopted and supported. You will have to revisit them over time (especially if the record needs to be accessible over 10 years) but, hopefully, you will not have to do much to them to ensure you can open them. The Electronic Records Branch compiled a list of different digital file formats to help you make decisions as you manage your records—File Format Guidelines for Management and Long-Term Retention of Electronic Records (

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